Underlying Motivations for Delaware Public Participation in Support of Offshore Wind: Implications for State Energy Policy

Piero, Jacqueline D.
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University of Delaware
In Spring 2006, Standard Offer Service customers of Delmarva Power & Light faced an average 59% increase in electric rates. In response, the Delaware state legislature passed the Electric Utility Retail Customer Supply Act of 2006. In compliance with the Act, Delmarva Power & Light issued an all-source Request For Proposals for a new 200 MW power purchase agreement. Three bids were submitted to the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC) for review: 600 MW offshore wind, 600 MW integrated gasification combined cycle coal, and 177 MW natural gas. The PSC reported unprecedented levels of public participation in related hearings and receipt of thousands of letters addressing the topic. Members of the public who participated in the process overwhelmingly favored offshore wind. Though one clause of the bill specifically required new environmentally responsible technologies, the primary emphasis explicit in the bill was stabilization of electricity rates. This analysis of public input in the Delaware Public Service Commission’s decision indicates that price stability is not the primary priority of Delaware residents. This thesis employs both qualitative and statistical methods to identify concerns expressed by supporters of offshore wind in order to determine the nature and origins of related advocacy. Analysis will demonstrate the importance of risk perception as a motivator for environmental advocacy, and in this case, public participation in policy decisions. In asking that decision makers reconsider the values underlying Delaware energy policy, members of the public also showed that thedefinition of “the public welfare” in this context is changing to not just include, but to actually emphasize, non-price factors. Results of this study not only reveal the broader applicability of the Delaware experience for utility-scale renewable energy, but also provide new context for citizen participation in environmental and energy policy decisions.